More than three weeks after the voting deadline came and went, opponents of a proposed Callowhill Business Improvement District are declaring victory, saying they have the signatures to defeat the proposed district, which would tax property owners as a way to fund cleanup and improvements in the neighborhood.
Leaders of the opposition met with city officials Friday afternoon and claim they received the required one-third signatures of property owners to reject the district.
“Out of 214 properties, we got 99 signatures opposing the BID," said Lee Quillen, who owns a condo unit on Buttonwood Street. “That’s 46.3 percent.”
Councilman Mark Squilla got a letter from the city’s chief clerk, Michael A. Decker: “I feel that the BID cannot proceed.”
Yet Squilla said nothing is official.
“This is a full democratic process, and we want to give both sides a chance to vet their concerns or support for the BID,” said Squilla, whose district includes Chinatown and Callowhill. “We want to make sure it’s transparent. Once it’s verified, then we will report those numbers.”
He said the city wants to bring all sides together to count the votes before making it official. He did not say when that would happen.
Only people who opposed the BID had to vote.
The leadership of the Callowhill Neighbors Association and officers of development company Arts & Crafts Holdings had been the biggest supporters of the improvement district, which was planned for an area generally from Vine Street to Spring Garden Street, and the Rail Park to Broad Street.
Sarah McEneaney, an artist who has lived in Callowhill for 40 years and who is president of the Callowhill neighbors group, has said the funding generated from such an arrangement is desperately needed to fight dumping and blight.
As proposed, the Callowhill BID would collect from all property owners within its borders an assessment — some say a tax — to clean streets, fight illegal dumping, and add lighting at night, a group brochure says.
But some residents saw the proposal as a way to provide maintenance support for a real estate holding firm that has invested heavily in the Callowhill and Spring Garden areas in the last four years — and to provide maintenance for the Rail Park, which opened more than a year ago on the elevated Reading Viaduct that crisscrosses the neighborhood.
Under the plan, there would be a surcharge above current property taxes: 0.12% assessment on commercial properties and 0.06% assessment on residential properties.
Supporters of the BID said that most property owners would only have to pay an additional $200 a year to have cleaner streets. But Quillen said the owner of the Best Western Philadelphia Convention Center Hotel at 13th and Vine Streets would have to pay an assessment of $20,000 a year; the owner of a property on Noble Street would have to pay $30,000 a year.
Unlike older business improvement districts in the city, the Callowhill BID was created under legislation allowing it to operate as a municipal authority for 20 years.
As such, opponents feared that the board of the BID, crowded with real estate investors, could attach liens on properties of those who refuse or were unable to pay the assessment.
Under the rules for the proposed BID, property owners had a 45-day period that ended Aug. 9 to voice opposition. If more than one-third objected in writing, the BID was not supposed to go forward.
Earlier Friday, Kelly Edwards, who works in community relations for Arts & Crafts Holdings, said she knew nothing about a meeting with Squilla on the outcome.
“We’re still waiting on an independent accounting firm’s results," Edwards said. "The city’s legal department has counted the votes they received. But we haven’t released the side-by-side tally yet."
The “side-by-side tally” she was referencing is a two-part voting process: "You had to write a letter to both the City Clerk’s Office and to the BID,” Edwards said.
These instructions were included in a letter to property owners but not widely publicized.